Summary: How to pray. How God answers prayer. How we should not badger God for material needs but use prayer to open our hearts to a true dialogue with God, and why God failed to let me win the lottery despite the fact that I had prayed for it.
Sermon: 17th in Ordinary Time
Text: Luke 11:1-13
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a child, my approach to prayer was the same as going to the supermarket with a shopping list; because I would pray [hands together, eyes closed] “God bless Mummy and dNddy, and God bless Granny and Grandad and God bless Auntie Maureen and God bless everybody and make me a good boy. Amen”
Now, Whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that prayer, it is not prayer as Our Lord and Saviour taught us; it is a diatribe of petition, in which Our Father is unable to get a word in edgeways. We need to think a little more about prayer, about how God responds to prayer and about the reasons why prayer is such an important ministry of every Christian, every day.
At face value, this morning’s Gospel would appear to advocate badgering God until one gets one’s own way, but this is not really the case. God knows our needs, our real needs before we actually bring them to him.
So why do we pray? What is the point if God already knows our prayers? Bringing our needs to God is not for his benefit, but for ours; enabling us to recognise our real needs before God; to open our hearts and allow God to drip feed the answer into us.
This is the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer: shorter, more concise, but still with the same essential structure and theology as the long version we adopt as the Lord’s Prayer we use daily in the liturgy found from the Gospel of Matthew.
"Pray without ceasing” advocated St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians [1 Thessalonians 5:17] and he was certainly perceptive in this advice; for our prayer, the prayers of the saints and the prayers of Our Blessed Lady before the Throne of Grace are powerful.
Powerful, not as coins of bartering or sycophancy in the heavenly court but because it is through prayer that we can open our hearts and our lives to God and it is to this wholesome intention that God responds and will respond, I guarantee in his positive, loving way.
We approach him in the Lord’s prayer not as a distant, abstract, absent Victorian-style "Pater" but as a familial (almost shockingly familial) "Daddy" - yes “Daddy” is the best translation for the Aramaic “Abba”; A Daddy who knows and loves each one of us and has a special relationship with us.
The parable at the heart if this gospel speaks not of a man bullied into rising to share his bread with the guest of a neighbour. The key word "persistence" is actually a doubtful translation – ‘anaideia’ is more suggestive of "shamelessness", of being willing to rise in the middle of the night to raid the breadbin because it is the right thing to do, and because the man is pleased to do it: this Middle-Eastern hospitality written out plain for us - the whole village would normally gladly give hospitality to a guest and would be pleased to do so. In this parable, it is Our Father who will rise and meet our needs, at any hour, not really because of our "persistence" but out of his promise to us, and out of the simple joy of doing so for us.